Last week Cycling 74 released the tremendous version 6 update to Max/MSP, their flagship multimedia programming platform, which provides an appealingly artistic interface into audio, MIDI, and video focused logic at a nonetheless intimidatingly fundamental level. The most notable addition is the certainly the optional new "Gen" object add-on, which blurs the lines between Max patches and the compiled C code used to create custom external objects, and then there's also a partial implementation of the HTML5 JavaScript API into the canvas element which should allow...


OK, there are probably better places to find out about all that. So here's something a little more interesting, then: two weeks prior, roughly coinciding with the beta release, they also hosted the second Expo 74 conference, which collected their platform's most accomplished multimedia tech hackers into a single excitable blob in Brooklyn -- presentations, projects, workshops, and gaggles of geeks giggling about programming-related jokes far too specialized to repeat here. Instead, I just wrote down the best one-liners.

"There's a difference between a machine and a tool. A tool is something that you use. A machine is something that uses you, like if you're working in a factory and have to pull the same lever over and over. I believe the same is true of computers, that the software is telling us how to use it."

This brief moment of insight comes courtesy of new media performance artist Jeremy Bailey during what was probably the most amusing presentation of the weekend, largely because he gave his talk through a Max patch which superimposed various animations in realtime over the video signal from his laptop's webcam (stupid sunglasses, odd little blobs dangling from his face, and a cigarette shaped like a dolphin, etc). This is one of the strengths of working in a platform as flexible as Max -- you build the levers yourself, instead of just yanking on them when instructed. Or, to bring this back to the marginally more approachable reality of DAW platforms and plugins: fuck presets, right?

Bwoop doop doopy doop dwoooop

Forgive the third-rate onomatopoeia, but let's have a moment of appreciation for the fact that Monome creators Brian Crabtree and Kelly Cain started their presentation with a short concert, sampling keys into one of their 64-key models and then eventually moving away from the keyboard entirely. At the end of the hallway just outside the main lecture hall used for the presentations, but I actually don't recall seeing anybody playing it all weekend. Technology is hard, and sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the point.

"I'm going to have a room that just has Legos in it."

Cycling CEO David Zicarelli rambled off into these as-yet-unrealized plans for his own house as an aside while introducing the Monome guys, but I actually think it quite effectively captures the sense of wonder this tool can inspire. Assuming you learn how to actually use it, that is.

"It allows people to patch without being programmers -- or, they don't think they're programmers."

Per Cycling CTO Joshua Kit Clayton, sometimes Dumbo just needs a feather.

"Test failed, but success is not our goal."

Japanese genius Daito Manabe actually had to put this Yogi Berra summary of an experiment gone awry up as a slide caption during his presentation because he doesn't speak English. I thought I was doomed to drift off during his extremely low-key talk, which was all fed through a translator and wisely scheduled last, but his insane schemes and his thorough command of the platform within which he executes them were absolutely jaw dropping. I mean that quite literally -- check out his electric facial stimulus project, in which he uses small finely-tuned sensors and electrodes to trigger involuntary twitches. Naturally, he animates a bunch of hapless subjects, all synchronized with the same glitchy MIDI pattern.

Max/MSP is perhaps a bit outside the realms of audio production technology that Tape Op usually inhabits, but for what it's worth, I've been patching up a storm ever since. Plenty of tests failed so far, but that's wonderful too.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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